Here are some answers from the director of 'Wings of Desire,' who is also the president of the European Film Academy.
Why has one of the most important contemporary cinema directors decided to make a movie about Pope Francis? Wim Wenders, president of the European Film Academy and director of such movies as Wings of Desire, chose to answer this question himself.
The impact that Wenders has had on the lives of millions of people is amazing. Just think, for example, of intimiste films such as Paris, Texas (1984) or the Wings sequel Faraway, So Close! (1993) and documentaries such as Buena Vista Social Club (1999).
In order to appreciate his impact on several generations, we only need to realize that “Nada,” the most recent song by Shakira—one of the most widely listened-to singers on the planet—begins with an homage to Wenders’ movie Wings of Desire.
How, then, did this director, who has won the highest honors at the Cannes and Venice film festivals and from the British Academy (BAFTA), get the idea of making a movie about Jorge Mario Bergoglio?
As Wenders himself has confirmed for Aleteia, the idea for the movie—based on hours of footage with the pope himself—came from Msgr. Dario Viganò, the priest to whom Pope Francis has entrusted the task of reorganizing and unifying the Holy See’s communications.
Over the past several days, during the Cannes Film Festival, Wenders explained to us: “I could never envision making a film about Pope Francis. He does not need that. We do not need a biography of the man, but his words matter. From the beginning, his words mattered, and he is somebody whom a lot of people listen to, and listen to differently than they listen to other people. His words matter.”
During a meeting with the press organized by the Diakonia of Beauty in the context of the Cannes Festival, Wenders explained that when Msgr. Viganò proposed to him the idea of making a movie, they spoke about the idea for a long time.
“I decided finally to make a film about his words. So the film is called A Man of His Word. We are in the process of making it, and I can’t talk too much about it. It is not the movie that matters, but his words matter. And the film tries to show why his word is important today, in a world where a lot of people say a lot of [expletive].”
So, there we have the explanation of the movie’s title, A Man of His Word. It will be distributed internationally by Focus Features, part of the NBC Universal group; for the moment, the public release date has not been announced.
During a conversation with someone like Wenders, the question arises: What is it that makes a movie “matter”?
“I can speak as a filmmaker and as audience,” he answered. “As filmmaker, I can tell that you cannot plan a film that matters. Because, as an audience, very often you see a film and you think, ‘That must be a film that matters,’ and then you come out and it did not matter. Then you see films that you do not have any idea what they are about, and you come out and they meant a lot in your life. So, you cannot plan a film that matters.
“But sometimes this miraculous thing happens: a film that is dear to somebody’s heart, like the filmmaker’s, becomes dear to other people’s hearts, and the fact that the film matters, appears as something that you do together, the audience as well as the filmmaker, and you feel together.
“So I think the only thing that matters is this miraculous agglomeration of happiness and meaning. You touch something, you touch the audience, and that audience needed it at that moment. And that is luckily something that nobody can plan. I say ‘luckily,’ because otherwise the industry will do only movies that matter,” he comments, getting a laugh out of his listeners.
“It is a little miracle that a movie matters. You can only say that it matters because the movie helps people to live better, or to understand a little better how to live. That becomes such a complex question in our day. When you see a film that matters, you come out and you have the feeling that you understand better, that you see life with different eyes. Maybe it will be for less than one hour, maybe much much longer, maybe it will stay with you. Luckily you cannot plan it. I tried to plan movies that matter. Sometimes I did succeed. I made movies that I thought I was going to be bashed for, but they mattered. So you cannot plan it.”
Wenders explains his understanding of a movie director’s vocation in these words: “When you make a movie, what you are doing is understanding what is hidden behind the images, under the surface. You have to scratch the surface to know what is behind it. One of the functions of cinema is to see what’s behind. It’s not always possible; you don’t always have to do it. But at times, cinema can do what is expressed by that beautiful word, ‘transcend.’ ‘Transcend’ life, reality, beauty, violence, all of that … and show what is behind it. It means not staying on the surface of the image, whether beautiful or cruel.”